Camp Fuji Marines, sailors remember lives lost in 1979 fire

Oct 25, 2007 | Posted by: roboblogger | Full story: Marine Corps Bases Japan

“People have what you call survivor's guilt”

Camp Fuji Marines and sailors bow their heads Oct. 19 in a memorial ceremony for the Marines and Japanese rescue workers who died or were injured in a fire that same day in 1979. via Marine Corps Bases Japan

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CDR Greg Gregory

Sarasota, FL

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#1
Dec 23, 2007
 
In October, 1979, I was the Officer-In-Charge of the Medical Clinic at NAF Atsugi, Japan and have very vivid memories of the Camp Fuji fire and rescue efforts. Our clinic was contacted in the midst of the typhoon (which also damaged NAF Atsugi) reporting the Camp Fuji disaster and we arranged and coordinated the rescue, on-site emergency treatment and evacuation of casualties. In the worst possible conditions, helicopters from Atsugi managed to land medical personnel at the Camp and we treated casualties with no electricity and virtually no medical equipment or supplies. I and my medical personnel - physicians, PAs and corpsmen - were on-site from beginning to end of the evacuation.
Your website indicates that casualties were evacuated to several different locations. In fact, all were evacuated by helicopter to the USAF Hospital at Yokota AFB, which in less than an hour converted an entire ward into an emergency burn center, sent emergency supplies to us at Camp Fuji and treated the evacuated casualties. From Yokota casualties were evacuated to Brooke Army Hospital via a C-141 flying burn center that arrived in Yokota less than 24 hours after the fire.
If you're interested in a detailed description of the Camp Fuji fire and medical response, including the extreme difficulties faced by my people as they administered to this overwhelming number of casualties in the most difficult of circumstances, I'd be glad to write one for you.
Let me add that we received the Navy Unit Commendation for our efforts, which was presented to us at the Atsugi Clinic by LTGEN Bernard Trainor, USMC.
G. H. Gregory
CDR, MSC, USN, Ret.
jack

Philadelphia, PA

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#2
May 29, 2008
 

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I beg to differ with CDR Gregory statement "all were evacuated by helicopter to the USAF Hospital at Yokota AFB". I was a corpsman assigned to bas 2/4 and i and some of my fellow corpsman and the injured marines were transported to a local japanese hospital. there we treated and help care for the injured marines. many of us were on duty for at least 36 straight hours. the staff at the japanese hospital gave some of us a change of clothes and fed us. it is true that eventually this brave men were transported to yokota afb and then transported to Brooke Army Hospital, but we and the japanese hospital staff were the first to care for these injured marines. during our care we lost only one marine and that was beyond our control. i will never forget some of injured calling out for their mothers and begging us to ease their pain. we corpsman were never awared medals for our service, we were told that we only were doing our job. for that i am proud of we we did that day, the way that we preformed under pressure and the guidance of Dr McDonald our commanding officer.
jack crystle, hm3
william lennon

United States

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#3
Jun 4, 2008
 

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I do remember being taken to a local hospital by six bye.later on that night we were brought back to base camp and air-lifted by chopper to yakota.next day loaded on c-141 to lackland and then brought to brooke army burn unit.I was discharged from brooke 2 months later and got orders to 6th marines 2nd mar. div.
John Duncan

Arab, AL

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#4
Jul 28, 2008
 
I was the 9th Air Evac, Clark AB, Ops Officer who received the call for help that night. We scrambled two C-141A Starlifters with augmented medical crew, including medical personnel from Clark AB Medical Center, and just about all our medical equipment. They picked up 39 men and flew them from Yokota to Travis AFB, CA, for refueling, then on in to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Only one of the men died enroute, which, considering the severity of their burns, was a miracle. It was an heroic effort by our medics and flight crew who transported these men all the way to San Antonio.

Someone who was on one of the aircraft, I think he was a military photographer, snapped a shot of one of the nurses wiping a tear from her eye as she worked with one of the Marines. He won an award for the picture. I wish I had a copy. It was very touching.

One of the pilots had been a Vietnam POW for over five years.

We were all very proud to be a part of this operation.
Jesus Lugo

Waukegan, IL

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#5
Oct 18, 2008
 

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I was one of the marines who was injured at fuji that eventful day. I lost 7 of my men from our hut. 13 total were lost. Though we are very thankful to all of the corpman,doctors,airmen and especially the japanese nationalists who helped us. There were many heroes that day. But, I have to say we lost 13 Heroes from the fire that Oct 19th 1979. I survived with many scars, but the worst scar is the memory of that day, the lost of 13 Great Men, Marines Semper Fi Brothers. You are not forgotten.
Michael Kemp

Florissant, MO

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#6
Oct 29, 2008
 
Can we discuss this? Contact me via mk.kemp@yahoo.com
CDR Greg Gregory wrote:
In October, 1979, I was the Officer-In-Charge of the Medical Clinic at NAF Atsugi, Japan and have very vivid memories of the Camp Fuji fire and rescue efforts. Our clinic was contacted in the midst of the typhoon (which also damaged NAF Atsugi) reporting the Camp Fuji disaster and we arranged and coordinated the rescue, on-site emergency treatment and evacuation of casualties. In the worst possible conditions, helicopters from Atsugi managed to land medical personnel at the Camp and we treated casualties with no electricity and virtually no medical equipment or supplies. I and my medical personnel - physicians, PAs and corpsmen - were on-site from beginning to end of the evacuation.
Your website indicates that casualties were evacuated to several different locations. In fact, all were evacuated by helicopter to the USAF Hospital at Yokota AFB, which in less than an hour converted an entire ward into an emergency burn center, sent emergency supplies to us at Camp Fuji and treated the evacuated casualties. From Yokota casualties were evacuated to Brooke Army Hospital via a C-141 flying burn center that arrived in Yokota less than 24 hours after the fire.
If you're interested in a detailed description of the Camp Fuji fire and medical response, including the extreme difficulties faced by my people as they administered to this overwhelming number of casualties in the most difficult of circumstances, I'd be glad to write one for you.
Let me add that we received the Navy Unit Commendation for our efforts, which was presented to us at the Atsugi Clinic by LTGEN Bernard Trainor, USMC.
G. H. Gregory
CDR, MSC, USN, Ret.
Frank Ross

United States

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#7
Aug 11, 2009
 
I was a USAF psychiatric nurse at Yokota when this event occurred. The typhoon hit Friday and we sent a convoy to Camp Fuji to recover the injured because the storm was too severe to fly helicopters. Others may have flown, but I am pretty sure the USAF did not send choppers due to weather. Many of the patients had already been distributed to local Japanese hospitals by the time the convoy got to the Fuji area. They had to be located and collected for the trip to Yokota. That is not to say that CDR Gregory is wrong, just that everyone did everything they could that night, including the local Japanese.
We sent as many of our psychiatric patients home as we could and made our ward into a unit to care for the less seriously injured. We stood by all night and when I reported early Saturday AM I had a ward full of Marines and their Navy Corpsmen to look after. Even our remaining patients pitched in and before long we had Marines on the phone calling home to let their families know they were okay in case they heard something and were worried.
We had an unused ward across the hall which took the more seriously injured and the most seriously injured were cared for downstairs in our ICU. Navy doctors, nurses and corpsmen from Yokosuka came to help and we all stayed busy until Sunday when the C-141s flew those going out to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, at Ft. Sam Houston. The Burn Team from Brooke had flown in and were helpful with treatment and equipment that Yokota and Yokosuka did not have.
I was most impressed by the courage and spirit of those young Marines. Some of them looked good for the first several hours and then died, which left their friends angry and mystified. During the fire these men had breathed fire and it damaged their lungs in a way that could not be repaired. This is a common injury in fires and the victim often looks fine until the lungs begin to fill and can no longer work okay. I remember a couple of the Marines saying they had been laughing and talking with someone on the trip to Yokota and now he was unconscious or died and they didn't understand why. Some of those guys had stood i the fire and passed their buddies out through the windows, Marine helping Marine.
I understand survivor guilt.It has been almost thirty years and I will never forget that weekend. We all wanted to do more and save more of those guys. No matter how much we did, it wasn't enough and we wanted to do more. I know some of the Marines who survived it might feel the same way. I also know that those who died would not want their friends and fellow Marines to live their lives under that shadow.
Plug on and honor the memory of those "Magnificent Bastards"!
Fenner E3 truck company

Knoxville, TN

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#8
Aug 22, 2009
 

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I was thear that day when the storm TIP hit us we ran with blinding rain and hail hit us with 100 mile winds, we went to the jap base nexted door 4 chothing and foot whear ,it was wild and that top of my fuji was red from our burnt blood we left at that place,all of us should have recived some kind of help from the va after what we went throw that day ,
Greg Gregory

North Port, FL

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#9
Nov 14, 2009
 
Belated as it may be, I'd like to respond to all who have posted to this site. It may very well be that the USAF sent choppers, but my recollection is that it was the Army from Camp Zama that did so. I certainly do not want to detract in any way from the contribution of the USAF or any other organization from the response to this disaster.
It is true that some of the casualties were initially taken to a local Japanese hospital and treated superbly, then transported back to Camp Fuji for further transfer to the USAF hospital in Yokota. I should also note that the actions of ALL the Marines at Camp Fuji were above and beyond. This was a disaster that was beyond any simple or brief description and the loss of life was an enormous tragedy. Under the most trying and difficult of conditions, everyone performed magnificantly and I'm sure many more would have been lost if it weren't for their tremendous devotion to duty.
I'd be delighted to correspond with anyone who has an interest in this disaster, especially those who were there.
G. H. Gregory
CDR, MSC, USN, Ret.
Greg Gregory

North Port, FL

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#10
Nov 14, 2009
 
Let me add that the actions of the USAF Hospital, Yokota, were beyond superb. I could write a book on just that aspect of this disaster. From providing medical supplies and food for the medical response team to preparing a burn ward and arranging for immediate medevac to Brooke Army Hospital burn unit, the Yokota hospital was incredible in its response. They could have done no more!
Stephie Hassel-Dillon

Chicago, IL

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#11
Jan 10, 2010
 
My brother PFC Gregory L. Hassel, USMC died on 11-6-79 the day after his 20th birthday from burn complications from Fuji. Since 4-09 I have found many things on this Fire and would like to correspond with any of you about this subject. I have many questions. I know some things that some of you may not be aware of
Stephie Hassel-Dillon

Chicago, IL

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#12
Jan 10, 2010
 
My email is smh23@sbcglobal.net
Stephie Hassel-Dillon wrote:
My brother PFC Gregory L. Hassel, USMC died on 11-6-79 the day after his 20th birthday from burn complications from Fuji. Since 4-09 I have found many things on this Fire and would like to correspond with any of you about this subject. I have many questions. I know some things that some of you may not be aware of
Gregory Jarvis

Renton, WA

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#16
Apr 16, 2010
 
I was the duty NCO at the Army Hospital at Sagamiono the night of the fire at Camp Fuji. I received a call from Yokota hospital late that night asking me if we had heard anything about a fire at the camp. About an hour later, I received a second call from the hospital informing me that a convoy had left for the camp and asking if we could send any equipment and personnel. From the Army hospital we sent four ambulances staffed with a driver, a corpman and either a physician or a RN nurse along with stretchers, blankets, oxygen and other medical supplies. Those ambulances along with Marine MPs went out through the Japanese community picking up the wounded marines, returning to the Camp to be medivaced to Yokota. just before dawn the morning after the fire, a Navy chinook picked me up from the Army hospital. We then flew to Yokota, kicked out the auxiliary fuel tank, configured for stretchers then flew to Camp Fuji. We loaded the chopper with the wounded marines and took them back to Yokota. This is really only the tip of the story from the Army Hospital's perspective of that night. Several of the Army personnel had very emmotional and memorable experiences that night with the marines and the Japanese who provided aid that night. It was very gratifying to be able to provide the assistance the we, the collective we from the Army Hospital, were able to give that night.
Dan Kerrigan

Las Vegas, NV

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#18
Jul 8, 2010
 
I was stationed at Yokota Hospital for three months of my 3 year tour as a lab tech. I had just gotten married October 5th and my wife and I had just endured a 16-hour flight and 1-hour train ride to Fussi-shi, the train station closest to the base. Arriving at midnight in a horrible downpour, and after waiting an hour for a taxi to show up, I finally decided to run to the base through the monsoon to retrieve my car and drive back to the train station to get my bride and all our luggage.

The next day, about 6 hours later and exhausted from all the travel, I called my supervisor,(forgot his name) and told him I was back,(so I wouldn’t get hit with leave time for the weekend.) He told me to get into the lab,“RIGHT NOW!” I explained my situation; that we didn’t have housing arranged and hadn’t slept but a few hours, but he didn’t care. When I found out that the hospital was expecting a bunch more badly burned Marines, I kicked into gear and did what was necessary. Can you imagine being a 21 year old, cute, female in a foreign country, can’t read any signs, can’t speak the language, don’t know where you are and now the person that brought you there was leaving you!?!

Luckily, the Base Vice Commander heard about my situation and he and his wife took my bride in for the next couple of weeks until this whole thing was over.

I remember guys on gurneys in the hospital hallways and staff still trying to find more places to put these poor, badly burned souls. Although we were on the main floor, we could still hear some of the screaming from the floor above! We worked our asses off! 16 to 18 hours on and 6 to 8 hours off for 4 or 5 days at least with no time to use the bathroom! It was very stressful, especially on me considering my situation, having to basically abandon my wife to fend for herself. I’m surprised we’re still married after all that! I heard several of the men had to be transported to Hawaii, their burns were so bad.

The stress was so high on everyone, we began to lose all sense of whatever,(and this is not meant as any disrespect to anyone) but when several of us heard that someone suggested they rename the Yokota newspaper from,“The Fuji Flier” to the,“The Fuji Fryer”, people couldn’t help but laugh! We were all so stressed out! Remember, this disaster was unlike and bigger than anything that had EVER happened in the military during a time of non-conflict.

Anyway, after several months or so, I remember being in a large room,(the cafeteria?) and raising our right hand as we accepted some Navy award. When I asked why it as a Navy award, and not an Air Force, or even Marine Corp. award, I was told that the Marines are under the Navy. I thought it was kind of funny that we received a Navy award for serving the Marines on an Air Force base.

As the presenter (a Colonel or General) of this award spoke, he told us that the award he was presenting all of us was the highest non-combat, peacetime medal the Navy had to offer, or something like that and said that this was the worse peacetime disaster the Navy had ever known and then spoke of the Navy’s gratitude and pride in our service.

So, having reviewed my DD 214, I notice the GLARING omission of this Navy medal. So, if anyone out there knows the name of this medal, award, ribbon, citation, or whatever it’s called, please email me at dank57@hotmail.com.

So, in typical military fashion, many of those who served so valiantly are totally forgotten!

Anyway, if anyone who served at that time in the lab is ever in Las Vegas, let’s do lunch!
Dan Kerrigan

Las Vegas, NV

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#19
Sep 16, 2010
 
So... when's someone going to do the research, write this all up and make a movie out it?! It's got all the elements!
marion clinton

Houston, TX

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#21
Oct 22, 2010
 
I was a lcpl in weapons platoon on oct 19th 1979. I remember lugo,
sgt milton anderson, sgt qualman,cpl miller, ssgt bartlet, and a hell of alot of the other guys stationed there with me. As a result of the losses we suffered I was promoted to cpl. As of today it's been 31 years and I've just had to deal with the nightmares and all the other problems this horrible event has caused me to have to deal with! If any of you guys remember me contact me at mbc357@live.com and we'll try to catch up!
marion clinton

Houston, TX

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#22
Nov 6, 2010
 
My name is Marion B. Clinton, I was a lcpl in weapons Co. 2/4 in Oct of '79. I do remember you Jesus, I remember that you were injured and refused help until you were sure that our brothers were attended to! You actually didn't accept medical care until we had been at that Japanese school that we were moved to after they were able to restore some semblance of order to the Co.
I was in Cpl Millers section, and I have to say that if it wasn't for Sgt Anderson I wouldn't be alive today. I would really like to hear from any of my brothers who are still around, I can be reached at mbc357@live.com
marion clinton

Houston, TX

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#23
Nov 6, 2010
 
My name is Marion B. Clinton and I was a lcpl in weapons Co. 81's platoon at Fuji Camp in oct of '79
Miller was my section leader and I think of him and all our other brothers who were lost that day!
I was just a 19 yr old kid who had to do alot of growing up that day and nearly on a daily basis I recall the events and the people who were with me that day. I would not have had these past 31yrs had it not been for Sgt Milton Anderson, Jesus please respond to this if you recieve it I'll be waiting to hear from you or anyone else from the 81's platoon. Reach me at (mbc357@live.com).
Mike Starke

Wilsonville, OR

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#24
Nov 27, 2010
 
Dan Kerrigan wrote:
I was stationed at Yokota Hospital for three months of my 3 year tour as a lab tech.
Hi Dan,

I was a S/sgt in the Yokota hospital pharmacy at the time of the disaster. Your account brings back many memories. The burned marines on gurneys and stretchers overflowing into the hallways is one of them. The doctors were making cuts in their blackened skin to release fluid buildup the burned tissue. It was an awful, awful scenario.

To see that kind of suffering is something I never want to experiance again. My part in helping was small, but I'm proud to have served with the doctors and nurses who staffed the hospital then. Their efforts were heroic.

Our primary concern was getting enough IV fluids from surrounding hospitals to help treat the victims. When we weren't busy we'd act as runners for supplies to the units. I remember sleeping for a couple of hours on a table in the pharmacy for at least one night.

This is something I had put out of my mind for a long time. Reading the accounts in this forum is like somebody recounting a dream I had once. I know it was all to real for the victims and their loved ones. Serving in the military is always a dangerous job, even in times of peace.
James Hill

Hayden, ID

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#25
Dec 9, 2010
 
I served in Japan as a Marine in 1965. The son of a friend of mine died in the Camp Fuji fire. I offer as inadequate solace the same poem by Karl Shapiro that was printed for my comrades who fell in Viet Nam.

The time to mourn is short that best becomes
The military dead.
We lift and fold the flag,
Lay bare the coffin with its written tag,
And march away.
Behind, four others wait
To lift the box, the heaviest of loads.
The anesthetic afternoon benumbs,
Sickens our senses, forces back our talk.
We know that others on tomorrows roads
Will fall, ourselves perhaps, the man beside,
Over the world the threatened, all who walk:
And could we mark the grave of him who died
We could write this beneath his name and date:

EPITAPH

Underneath this wooden cross there lies
A Christian killed in battle.
You who read,
Remember that this stranger died in pain;
And passing here, if you can lift your eyes
Upon a peace kept by human creed,
Know that one soldier has not died in vain."

God Bless and Semper Fi

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